Table of contents school of plant biology introduction


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Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO Plant Industry, Floreat Park, WA;

Ph: 9333 6616; Email:
Research Interests

My research revolves around water use by plants: how water use is impacted by the environment; and how it impacts on the environment. Current research projects include:

  • Water balance of conservation farming systems (with Dr Ken Flower and WANTFA). How does stubble retention, as part of a conservation farming system, affect evaporation from the soil, infiltration into the soil, deep drainage to groundwater, and crop water use efficiency?

  • Competition for water in pasture cropping systems (with Dr David Ferris, CRC FFI, and Dr Roger Lawes, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems). In pasture cropping systems, crops are sown in to established perennial, summer-active pastures. When the pasture breaks from dormancy in spring, how does it compete with the crop for water?

  • Water Use Efficiency of crops in the high-rainfall zone of WA (with Dr Heping Zhang and Dr Steve Milroy, CSIRO PI). With the expansion of crops into the 500-700 mm rainfall zone of WA, how can we maximise their water use efficiency for optimum yield and profit?

  • Water repellency and stubble retention (with Dr Margaret Roper, CSIRO PI). The theory of water repellence suggests that its severity should increase under stubble retention. However, farmers report that symptoms of water repellency are often less severe after adopting stubble retention. Can this be explained by patterns of soil water distribution?

In addition to the work described above on agricultural systems, I have also worked on native ecosystems, including Banksia woodland and mallee heath (with Prof Hans Lambers and Dr Erik Veneklaas), measuring water use at the ecosystem level.

Possible Projects

  • Impact of stubble orientation on evaporation from the soil during early crop growth. One of the ways to improve crop water use efficiency is to reduce water loss by evaporation from the soil surface. Can stubble retention assist in reducing evaporation, and will this increase water use efficiency? This project would involve field work at the existing trials (managed by WANTFA) located at Cunderdin and Mingenew. Measurements would include evaporation rate and soil water content in some of the treatments at the sites for the first few months of crop growth (May-July).

  • Does pasture cropping reduce the incidence and severity of wind erosion? One of the major proposed benefits of pasture cropping on the sandplain areas of WA is the potential for the higher levels of ground cover to reduce the incidence and severity of wind erosion. However, there is currently no data to support this assertion. In this project, you would take erosion measurements on some of the treatments at the existing CRC FFI trial at Moora and possibly at other farmer sites. Measurements would be most suited to April and May, but could be conducted at any time.

  • Dead roots as potential wicks. Recent research has shown that in sandy soils, evaporation over summer might actually be higher from areas where stubble is retained compared with areas where stubble is removed. This finding is contrary to expectations. Can dead roots act as continuous soil pores, transmitting water to the soil surface? This project will involve glasshouse research, using a tracer in water to determine patterns of water movement in pots containing dead wheat plants.

I am also happy to discuss other project ideas related to soil water or plant water use.


Climate Adaptation National Research Flagship, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, Underwood Ave, Floreat

Ph: (0)8 9333 6802; Email:; www:
Research interests: My current interests relate to the management of invasive plant species in a changing climate. I focus on understanding risks associated with weed species and aim to provide evidence based assessments for influencing adaptation responses (management and policy) to climate change. My work includes assessing variation in the invasive ability of weed species, the interaction of weeds with their surrounding ecosystem, plant range studies based on modelling climatic and ecophysiological parameters, and understanding the ongoing effectiveness of current biological control methods.
Students would have access to a suite of facilities at UWA and CSIRO Entomology in Floreat, according to the needs of the chosen project. Projects would involve collaborations with John Scott ( and Hans Lambers (
Specific projects for consideration this coming year are:
Germination and establishment ecology of invasive sea spurge in the coastal dunes of Western Australia (with Dr John Scott)
For plants, coastal foredunes are a highly mobile environment in which to establish and grow. Yet the exotic Mediterranean sea spurge is able to colonise this environment readily, resulting in a highly modified foredune community in many parts of southern Australia. As part of our broader work on characterising the invasion of sea spurge in Australia, this project will bring a plant ecophysiological perspective to investigating the mechanisms and processes that allow sea spurge to germinate, establish and then dominate this dynamic ecosystem.
An integrated approach to predicting weed distributions under climate change (with Dr John Scott)
In addition to accounting for a changing climate, the prediction of future weed distributions needs to consider other issues such as the physiological parameters of the plant, ecosystem interactions, changed land use and physical barriers. We will utilise the naturally available climatic and soil gradients of southern Western Australia, field and glasshouse studies and software modelling in an integrated approach to predicting the distributions of key horticultural weed species. Multiple projects are available, depending on the particular interests of applicants.
Ecosystem transforming processes associated with bridal creeper invasion (with Prof Hans Lambers)
Areas colonised by bridal creeper, a weed of national significance, have increased soil nutrients and exhibit post-colonisation loss of native species. A change in decomposition rates is also associated with the weed invasion. The project will examine the ecosystem changing processes associated with invasion by bridal creeper both in the laboratory and field, and test management options for restoring ecosystems transformed by bridal creeper.

For further information or to propose alternative project ideas that complement my broad research area, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


Through an improved understanding of the way natural and agricultural ecosystems work, the CRC is providing new plant-based land use systems that lessen the economic, environmental and social impacts of dryland salinity and thereby help to sustain rural communities. Our goals are to:

  • Direct and influence plant-based research delivering agricultural production and processing systems that cope with, arrest and reverse dryland salinity, improve water quality and sustain rural communities.

  • Create awareness, will and capacity to adopt plant-based solutions to dryland salinity for economic, environmental and social benefit to Australia.

  • Provide an expanding pool of graduate researchers capable of solving the complex natural resource management issues facing Australia.

  • Achieve effective collaboration among CRC researchers that transcends geography, agency, discipline and sector, interacts purposefully with industry and the community, and takes a lead in the effort to optimize the use of Australia's intellectual and research resources.

UWA Academics who are participants in the CRC are listed below. Please refer to academic listings in this manual for further information.

  • Prof David Pannell

  • A/Prof Keith Smettem

  • Dr Eric Veneklaas

  • Prof Hans Lambers

  • Prof Zed Rengel

  • Dr Tim Colmer

  • Dr Greg Hertzler

  • Dr Steven Schilizzi

  • Dr Atakelty Hailu

  • Dr Benedict White

  • A/Prof Michael Burton

  • Dr Pieter Poot

  • Dr Ross Kingwell

  • Dr Guijun Yan

  • Prof Graeme Martin

  • Dr Philip Vercoe

  • Dr Stephen Burgess

  • Dr Daniel Real

Adjunct Assoc. prof. daniel real

Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia, Pasture Science Group, 3 Baron-Hay Court, South Perth, WA 6151 Ph: 9368 3879 Email:

Research Interests
As a participant of the Future Farm Industries CRC, my research interest is in perennial forage legume breeding. Specific projects can be developed to suit student’s interest within our breeding program in Tedera (Bituminaria bituminosa var. albomarginata). For further details please contact me by email:

Dr Sarita Bennett

Room 1.157, Agriculture CRC Wing. Tel: 6488 4841 Email:

Variation in growth rate of old man and river saltbush under salinity, waterlogging and temperature.
Saltbush is the best option for saltland pastures over much of the low to medium rainfall agricultural zone of Western Australia. Its growth is affected by depth to the watertable, groundwater salinity and mean annual temperature, yet the optimum conditions and the limit of growth is still poorly understood. Saltbush has been widely planted on the SGSL Producer Network Sites and this provides an opportunity to study the growth of established plants at a range of sites across the 300 to 450 mm rainfall zone of Western Australia.

2. Adaptation of annual ryegrass to increasing salinity.
Annual ryegrass is reported to have limited tolerance to both saline conditions and winter waterlogging, yet it occurs widely across the wheatbelt of Western Australia in both saline and non-saline conditions. As a species it has been shown to have high variability and to show rapid adaptation to new environmental conditions. Are populations persisting under saline conditions developing a tolerance to salinity through genetic adaptation?

3. Ecotypic variation in woolly clover (Trifolium tomentosum) across a saline gradient. Comparisons with accessions from mediterranean collections.
Woolly clover is widely naturalized across the wheatbelt of Western Australia and is found growing in both waterlogged and saline conditions where it is often highly productive. Trials undertaken through the CRC Salinity found that it often had better production than other annual legume species. Should this species be included in agronomic evaluations of understorey species in saltland systems?

4. Influence of environment on germination and establishment of annual pasture understorey species

Germination of annual species under saline conditions is known to be affected by the salinity of the soil during germination. The salinity of the top soil decreases dramatically after the ‘break’ of the season. But how does the timing of the break affect the breakdown of seed dormancy, viability of pre-emergent seed and seed germination. Information from this project will feed into current work on SaltCap2, a FFI CRC project.


Dr Sarita Bennett, 6488 4841, UWA,

Dr Phil Nichols, 9368 3547, DAFWA,

Dr Ed Barrett-Lennard, 6488 1506, DAFWA/Plant Biology UWA,

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